Egypt’s government is investigating a satirist who made fun of President Mohamed Morsi on television and could face charges for insulting the Egyptian leader.
The country’s new constitution forbids anyone from insulting the president, which has prompted freedom of speech concerns from human rights activists.
Satirist Bassem Youssef, who rose to fame during the uprising that brought down Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, had his own television show and was compared to “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart. Recently, he made fun of Morsi’s repeated use of the word love and started off one of his shows with a love song while holding a pink pillow with Morsi’s face on the front of it, reported Al-Jazeera.
“The president understands us. He understands us better than we understand ourselves,” Youssef said during the program, according to The Washington Post. “He tells us things we never knew,” he continues on. He also makes fun of Egypt’s political climate in general.
During Egypt’s hotly contested presidential elections last year, Youssef made fun of each of the candidates, reported the Post.
Egypt’s prosecutor general initiated an investigation into a complaint lodged against Youssef by an Islamist attorney, accusing him of insulting Morsi, who is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and was “undermining his standing,” according to Al-Jazeera.
Human rights activists have decried Youssef’s investigation, saying that it is part of a trend initiated by Egypt’s government to stifle free speech.
“The greatest threat to freedom of expression over the last four months has been this rise in criminal defamation cases, whether it is on charges of defaming the president or the judiciary,” Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of Human Rights Watch, told Al-Jazeera. “The problem now is we are likely to see an increase in this because criminal defamation is now embedded in the constitution.”
The newspaper al-Masry al-Youm, which has one of the largest circulations in Egypt and is known as the Egypt Independent in English, is also under investigation for “spreading false news representing a danger to civil peace, public security, and affecting the presidency,” The Associated Press reported.
The story in question was about Morsi visiting the hospital where former leader Mubarak is staying, without providing a reason for the trip. It later issued an update that Morsi’s wife and not Morsi himself had visited a relative at the hospital, according to AP, which said that a reporter and an editor were summoned for interrogation.
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